Fire building is one of the most useful and necessary skills for survival.


Choose a location near your shelter that is dry, and gives you access to plenty of wood for burning. Clear leaves and debris at least 3 feet around the perimeter of your fire. If you need fire for warmth then prepare a fire wall made from logs or rock (Use caution, porous rocks may explode). To keep your fire alive throughout the night you will need to collect about 5 times as much wood as you think you may need.
Next locate your kindling, and tender. Even in the wettest environments there is dry wood, and other kindling to be found. Look around the base of trees, under the bark of fallen logs.
There are 3 types of material need for a successful easy to start fire.

Fuel is anything that will burn; but for a fire, fuel is anything that will burn for an extended period of time.

  • Wood (logs, sticks, etc.)
  • Grass (bunched together)
  • Animal Dung (dried)
  • Oils (animal fat, etc.)

Kindling is usually smaller pieces of fuel that can help create a fast burning hot fire. Kindling is used to help get your main fuel source ignited.

  • Dry Leaves (leaves, pine needle, etc.)
  • Wood ([punk] dry rotted logs, small sticks, dry evergreen limbs, pine knots, fire stick, cardboard)
  • Dry Grass

Tender is anything that can catch fire with a spark. Tender is used to get your initial flame, and start your kindling. Most tender should be extremely dry!Gather your tender in a bundle similar to a birds nest; this will make starting a fire much easier.

  • Wood ([punk] dry rotted logs, saw dust, fine wood shavings, paper, shavings from a pine knot [evergreen knot], Birch Bark, birch tinder fungus, shredded inter bark from Cedar, red elm, and chestnut trees)
  • Plants (dead dry fern, moss, fungi) (dry palm leaves) (down seed heads from milkweed, dry cattails, dandelion, golden rod, bulrush, Canada thistle) (cotton) (dried vegetable fibers)(spongy thread from a dead dry puffball mushroom) (straw) (skin-like bamboo lining)(outer bamboo shavings)
  • Pocket Lint
  • Waxed Paper
  • Gun Powder

Building the fire

Start with the kindling at the base, and your fuel-wood on the top. Allow easy access to the kindling; this will help you transfer your tender to ignite the kindling. The most popular fire design is the tepee.

Starting the Fire

In this section we will review many non-conventional methods for starting a fire.

Two stick friction methods
(You must read “Creating a Fireboard” and “Friction Hand Drill” to understand all of the friction drill methods)

Creating a Fireboard
(You must read this to understand many of the methods used below!)

A fireboard is used for several of the friction methods listed below.

  • Find a flat/semi-flat piece of wood (large enough to hold steady with one foot) (choose a softwood that is softer than the stick you will be using).
  • Dig out a circular indention in the wood (see illustration).
  • Cut a V shaped grove in the wood (this will allow hot embers to fall downward to your tender or bark).

Friction Hand Drill
(This is the basic method used for drills, you must read this to understand many of the methods used below!)

  • Find a straight stick about 2 feet long and as wide as your thumb to use as a spindle (choose a wood hat is harder than your fireboard).
  • Place the spindle, in the depression of your fireboard.
  • Roll the spindle between the palms of your hands, while maintaining downward pressure, do this in quick burst. Keep up this action until embers are formed.
  • You can use a piece of bark to transfer the embers to your tender, or deposit the embers directly on your tender.
  • Blow on the embers until your tender is ignited.

Two-Man Drill
This method is similar to the Hand Drill above.

  • Find a piece of wood, or rock with a depression to use as a socket; this is to hold downward pressure on your spindle.
  • Wrap a rope around the spinal going around it 2 times.
  • While one person applies downward pressure, the other pulls back and forth on the rope to spin the spindle.

Bow Drill
This method is similar to the Drill methods used above.

  • Find a piece of wood, or rock with a depression to use as a socket; this is to hold downward pressure on your spindle.
  • Create a bow using a stick, and string.
  • Wrap your bow string around the spindle.
  • While holding downward pressure with your socket, run the bow back & forth to spin the spindle and create hot embers.

Pump Fire Drill

  • Drill a hole in the center of a rounded piece of hardwood and insert the spindle so that it fits very snugly.
  • Drill a hole in your crossbar so that it will move freely over your spindle.
  • Drill a hole through the top of your spindle.
  • Attach your crossbar to the spindle using a string.
  • Wind up the string and push with downward pressure, releasing pressure as you reach the bottom. The motion will cause the spindle to rewind like a yo yo. Continue this until your embers are formed.

Fire Plough

  • Cut a grove into the length of your fireboard.
  • Rub a slightly harder stick back and forth until embers are formed. (This method can be used if you are unable to find tender; it creates its own tender)

Spark Methods

With a proper ignition source a spark can ignite a fire in no time at all. Using a cotton ball, or char cloth will make it easier to ignite.

Flint (or quartzite) and Steel 
Striking steel against a flint works great, if it is done properly!

  • Hold a shard of hard rock (flint, quartzite, or other spark producing rock) between your thumb and forefinger.
  • You can hold a piece of char cloth, cotton, or birch bark fungi between your thumb and the rock.
  • Strike the rock with a carbon metal tool (knife, etc.).
  • You can also lay a tool such as an ax on a steady surface and strike the tip of the axe (facing away from you; getting hurt in a survival situation will only make things worse) with the rock into the direction of your ignition fuel.
  • Always quickly transfer your embers to your tender bundle, and blow on it until flames are produced.

Commercial Flint Fire Starting Tools

Flint and steel set. (This is my favorite!)

  • Hold the steel in one hand close to your starter fuel (cotton ball, etc.).
  • Hold the flint rod in your other hand under your steel tool.
  • Pull back on the flint rod to shower sparks towards your ignition source.

Tip: I use a commercial fire starter, and dental gauze (works extremely well) to start my fires. I keep them inside of a water proof match container. You can also water proof your cotton ball/gauze by coating it in Vaseline.

Magnesium Fire Starter
You can scrape the magnesium into a pile in your tender bundle, and then light it with your knife and the flint provided on the magnesium fire starter. The magnesium burns at over 5,000 Fahrenheit for 1-2 seconds.

Other Fire Starting Methods

Magnifying Lens
This only works well on bright sunny days. You can use a magnifying glass (camera lens, binoculars, eye glasses, etc.), or a glass of water.

  • Focus the suns beam of light onto your tender bundle.
  • Focusing the light to the smallest point will intensify the light enough to start a fire.
  • Blow on your tender until flames are produced.

Attach a wire to each battery terminal. Quickly touch each wire together to create a spark near your cotton ball, or tender.

Tip: Touching a 9 volt battery to an iron wool pad creates a fast fire starter (this is why batteries should not be stored in kitchen drawers).


You can extract gun powder from a shell by removing the bullet. Gunpowder works very well for the spark method of fire starting. You may also be able to light a pile of gunpowder by using the empty case (no bullet), and firing the primer at the gunpowder.